How to: Play-Based Learning

Play-based learning is a great way to break out of the classroom and have fun. But where do you start? We asked Haley for ways to take play-based learning outdoors for some hands-on activities. These are some of  her favorite things to do with her own kids and her students at school.

Nature scavenger hunt

“We like to do a scavenger hunt where we look for different kinds of leaves or rocks, or any other kind of thing like animals or plants that we can talk about. I also like to tie it in with a book if I can,” Haley says.

To do this with your kids, pack a snack and head out on the trail or to the local park. Pick something they’re interested in like birds or rocks, and make a plan to find as many as you can. Let your kid guide where you go, and when they find the object you’re looking for, talk to them about it. Ask questions like what color is it? How big is it? Or what does it feel like?

You can also pick something simple like a certain color, shape, or letter of the alphabet and use that to guide your scavenger hunt. How many white plants can you find? Or what about things that start with the letter G? 

Want to pair your adventure with a book? Look for a copy of “Muskrat and Skunk, a Lakota Drum Story” by Donald F. Montileaux, then see how many of the animals you can find in nature. Or try a classic like Eric Carle’s “The Grouchy Ladybug” and see how many ladybugs you can find. 

Save the animals

“Take an animal figurine and put it in a container full of water, then freeze it. Then on a nice day, it’s fun for kids to take outside and use small tools to ‘rescue’ the animal inside,” Haley says. 

This activity is easy, but kids have a blast chipping away at the ice block to rescue the animal or toy inside. You can add as many toys as you want, or get creative and add food coloring to the water. The goal is to let kids work with their hands while exploring the various forms of water.

Say it, then Spray It!

This game is a great way to work on phonetics while having fun with water — because who doesn’t like playing with squirt guns? 

“For this one, I write letters on the sidewalk with chalk, and then give my son a squirt gun. When I make a sound, he has to spray the letter that makes that sound,” Haley says. 

To up the ante, you can make it a race to see who gets to the letter first, or even put them far enough apart your kids have to run between them. 

Want to learn more? Check out the rest of our interview with Haley for her tips on play-based learning with your family.